Modern And Contemporary Art In Sarajevo

Earlier this year in September, I spent many days in Sarajevo. Whilst exploring the city I made sure that I set aside a decent portion of time to investigate and discover some of the city’s art. The first place I visited was a cultural centre called the Bosniak Institute. When I visited one Saturday afternoon, there were not many visitors, which was a shame as it has so much to offer and the entrance fee is only a few KMs. One wing of the institute over a few floors consists of a permanent collection of paintings from different decades of the 20th century by Bosnian artists. There is a street painting of a corner of the historic Ottoman style Baščarsija district of the city dating back to 1920 by an artist called Doko Mazalić. Elsewhere there are two Expressionist style paintings from the mid 1950s by the artist Rizah Stetić, one of which is of the main square of Baščarsija where the famous wooden Sebilj fountain is located.

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1920 painting of the historic Ottoman style Baščarsija district of the city by Doko Mazalić

 

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Paintings from the mid 1950s of the Baščarsija district by Rizah Stetić

Two other paintings from the early 1960s catch my eye by the artist Ibrahim Ljubovic. The first painting is of a woman with heavy, tired and anxious eyes. A black half chimp half crow beast clings to her shoulders. The background is sombre and bleak; like a vulture’s playground.

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Paintings from the early 1960s by Ibrahim Ljubovic

In another corner is a Naive Art style painting by an unknown artist likely created sometime around the middle part of the 20th Century and a tapestry on the wall by one of the stairs. Back on the ground floor level at the entrance is a small but powerful temporary exhibition of drawings documenting the 1992-5 Bosnian War by the artist Mevludin Ekmečić.

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Drawings documenting the 1992-5 Bosnian War by Mevludin Ekmečić.

The exhibition, entitled “Drawing the War: Bosnia 1992-1995”, features a selection of barbaric, graphic and nightmarish chronicles of pain, reminiscent of Francisco Goya’s “Disasters of War” drawings he created between 1810-1820 at a time when Spain was struggling with many domestic and global conflicts. Spain is very similar to former Yugoslavia in that both countries are unions of different countries with deep roots. History sadly has a habit of repeating itself and today, with the current push for independence in Catalunya, Spain, in the worst outcome, could face a similar fate to Yugoslavia’s, perish the thought. Examining and studying these drawings in greater detail, they further convey to me the futility and insanity of war. Everybody suffers. There are no winners. In fact life for the so called ‘conquerors’ for me is hell on Earth; I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of Ratko Mladić or Radovan Karadžić and the rivers of blood on their hands. The drawings show victims tortured, dead bodies on the ground with severed heads, a blood thirsty war general clutching a freshly decapitated head by its hairs and the destruction of the historic bridge in the city of Mostar. Each drawing also has written notes by Ekmečić where he describes the horrific images of the war (which he saw broadcasted on TV and in the newspapers when living in exile in Paris) and would then furiously sketch them with black ink.

In another area of the institute is the Mersad Berber green salon featuring a permanent display of paintings donated by Berber. Mersad Berber is one of the best known and greatest Bosnian artists of the 20th century and true master artist in the classic sense. His works have an epic and profound quality to them spanning the great periods of art history from the Classical Greek and Roman periods to the Byzantine, Renaissance and Ottoman eras. His paintings are also spiritual, human and timeless. Observing his works in greater detail, he is a descendent of the old masters and there are subtle echoes of some of the greats like Caravaggio, Zurbarán and even Bosch. This broad palette of art history combined with his own mixed media techniques have positioned Berber as a unique artist with a distinct style. From 1978 until his death in 2012 he taught at the Academy of Fine Arts in Sarajevo and his work is featured in London’s Tate Gallery collection.

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The Mersad Berber green salon located inside the Bosniak Institute

 

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Paintings by Mersad Berber

The Ars Aevi Museum of Contemporary Art, a concrete Brutalist style building in a part of the city reminiscent of the Barbican in London, has a collection of donated works by global contemporary artists. It is a modest space over two floors with plywood interiors and a transient atmosphere, and gave the impression that the museum is lacking in funds and operating on a tight budget.

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The Ars Aevi Museum of Contemporary Art

Yet in spite of this I have read that there are plans to relocate the existing museum and its collection into a new building to be designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano. There is a work by the legendary German artist Joseph Beuys in the collection of 100 bottles of olive oil. Two Spanish artists, sculptor Juan Muñoz and Txomin Badiola, each have a work in the museum. Muñoz’s piece is a hanging blue sculpture of a man and two smaller suspended white figures touching the right palm of the blue man.

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Joseph Beuys: Ölflasche (100 bottles of olive oil) (1984) 

 

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Juan Muñoz: L’Appeso (1998)

 

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Txomin Badiola: Double Trouble 2 (1990)

The Russian-American artist duo Komar & Melamid are featured with their 1995 installation, “50 Proposals for the United Nations”. The historical context of the work is interesting. During the Bosnian War in July 1995, the Bosnian town of Srebrenica fell and experienced the biggest genocide in Europe since the Second World War where over 8,000 civilians were killed. The United Nations had designated Srebrenica a safe zone but failed to protect the town and its civilians from the Bosnian Serb Army. At the time the UN was also approaching its 50th anniversary, yet this anniversary coincided at a time when the UN was experiencing great difficulties and challenges not just with the situation in Bosnia, but also the genocide in Rwanda, which the UN also failed to prevent. The installation features three head busts of Joseph Stalin, George Washington and Jesus Christ.

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Komar & Melamid: 50 Proposals for the United Nations (1995)

There are works by some notable Bosnian conceptual artists. The artist Braco Dimitrijević has an installation piece comprising of three black and white framed photographs of historical figures alongside six pairs of black shoes each positioned by the left and right sides of each photograph. Dimitrijević was a key figure in the development of conceptual art in former Yugoslavia during the 1970s. His best known work is his Triptychas Post Historicus installation series of works by famous artists in dialogue with everyday objects and fruits and vegetables.

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Braco Dimitrijević: Heralds of Past History (1997)

Two other Bosnian conceptual artists, both contemporaries of Dimitrijević; Edin Numankadić and Dean Jokanović-Toumin, have also donated works to the collection. Numankadić’s installation piece “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, Never” has those words each individually written on four framed black stone slabs propped on wooden crates. He is also the director of the 24th Winter Olympics Museum in Sarajevo, which opened on the year of the Winter Olympic Games in the city in 1984 to commemorate them.

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Edin Numandkadić: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, Never (1996)

Toumin’s work on display is simply a quote from an 18th century writer called Avigdor Pawsner, “If you are looking for hell, ask the artist where it is. If you don’t find the artist, then you are already in hell”. This quote is also engraved on the wall by the entrance to the museum.

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Dean Jokanović-Toumin: If You Are Looking For Hell… (1993/98)

Elsewhere in the museum are two photographs by the Bosnian artist Nebojsa Seric Shoba entitled “Sarajevo-Monte Carlo”. Shoba lived through the 1992-5 Siege of Sarajevo when the city was surrounded by Bosnian Serb Army troops and it was very difficult for civilians to leave the city. In this period Shoba volunteered as a soldier protecting the city and it’s civilians against attacks from the BSA. The photograph on the right shows the artist as a soldier during the siege and the photograph on the left is of the artist in a similar pose in Monte Carlo wearing casual clothes taken after the war. In the first photograph the artist is thinner and in a constant state of tension and uncertainty with no end in sight to the war. In the Monte Carlo photograph, the artist has put on weight and is more relaxed and non defensive wearing funky clothes. Not so long ago he was in a war zone in a constant state of fight or flight and didn’t know whether he would live or die.

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Nebojsa Seric Shoba: Sarajevo – Monte Carlo (1998)

The National Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina, located in an old Austrian-Hungarian era building, has a collection of over 6,000 art works. When I visited there were two exhibitions on display that interested me. The first exhibition on the top floor, entitled Intimacies Of Space, is a permanent exhibition of works by modern and contemporary Bosnian artists and artists from other parts of former Yugoslavia. This exhibition is divided into five themes; “Garden”, “Interior”, “Atelier”, “Landscape” and “Window”. The Bosnian artist Behir Misirlic’s painting Small Part of the Garden (1969) is an ethereal and sensitive composition of meta-morphing forms and nuances, subtle colours and light and dark shades; of captured moments of fleeting beauty most naked eyes fail to perceive.

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Bekir Misirlić: Small Part of the Garden (1969)

Green, Green Grass of Home (2002) by the Sarajevo born artist Maja Bajević is a video installation with a poignant story around the themes of identity and loss. In the video the artist is walking in a green field describing her apartment in Sarajevo where her grandparents lived and where she subsequently lived before the Bosnian war. Since the war other people have occupied her apartment and have refused to vacate it. All attempts to get it back have been in vain. In the film, as the artist is walking in the field, she tries to remember the flat and all the memories she has of it in as much detail as she can going from one room to the next with just the mental map of her memory to guide her.

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Maja Bajević: Green, Green Grass of Home (2002)

In the “Interior” section of the city exhibition there are three paintings by artists from former Yugoslavia which stand out. Mensur Dervisević’s oil painting “Space” is a desolate vacuum of black, burnt brown umber, pewter, green-brown olive and pale grey hues. In the darkest area of the painting is a lone mirage-like figure; an eternal spirit nailed to its place; stationary and ambiguous. It’s power and presence is augmented by the claustrophobic dark landscape enfolding it.

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Mensur Dervisević: Space

Ordan Petlevski’s oil composition “From the Interior” is similar in spirit to Dervisevic’s painting; a highly introspective work in dialogue with the core of the subconscious. The white, beige, dark and light brown middle area of Petlevski’s painting, for me, represents a process of animal metamorphosis. I see a head forming at the top of this area, like the head of a rabbit. A wing is developing at the bottom of the painting protruding the left side of the figure and at the bottom right, if you study it closely enough, you may be able to decipher a vague face with a fire-red opel eye. In the bottom left of the painting there is a gash of orange-red like a ray of light. Look closely and the face of a woman may appear.

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Ordan Petlevski: From the interior (1957) 

Ljubisa Naumović’s “Interior” oil painting from 1943 represents a well furnished and comfortable living room. It’s painted in a style which reminds me of some of the great early 20th century French painters, especially the Fauvist painters Raoul Dufy and Henri Matisse. “Interior with Open Windows” has a similar loose and free brushwork style and subject matter. Red is the prominent colour in many of Matisse’s interior paintings. In his landmark “The Red Studio” painting, everything is drowning in red. In Naumović’s painting, the dominant colour is green in three different hues; the blue cedar green front wall and three chairs, the olive green floor and right-side wall and the warm spring green bed by the blue cedar green front wall.

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Ljubisa Naumović: Interior (1943)

There are three works in the “Atelier” part of the exhibition, which register with me. Two of these works are oil paintings by artists from former Yugoslavia. Antun Sojat’s “From the Studio” is a painting of the artist’s studio with a cold, threadbare, dark and musty tone; a studio with limited to no natural light. Beautiful and tasteful objects such as the vase of flowers or the small grey-green statue and stand of fruits on the desk or the brown painting easel featuring a head bust resting on the bottom are all within a limited framework from which they can shine. There is abundant beauty buts it’s all entrapped and frozen. On the other hand, in Emanuel Vidivić’s “My Old Studio” painting, natural light bathes his studio. He is not kept in darkness. His studio is ample in space with many paintings leaning next to one another by the studio walls. It feels just as much a home than an artist’s studio.

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Antun Sojat: From the Studio

 

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Emanuel Vidivić: My Old Studio (1936-8)

Artist Edin Numankadić features again here. The third work of the “Atelier” segment I am going to focus on is an installation by Numankadić called Traces Of War from 1993. This work is significant since it shows the artist’s studio as it was in Sarajevo when the city was under siege. In the other two works I focused on aesthetics and natural light. In this work, those subjects take a back seat. When you are creating art in a war zone and your city is surrounded, questions such as whether you are going to live or die or when will the war end are always at the fore of the mind’s landscape. There is a perpetual state of tension and anxiety.

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Edin Numankadić: Traces of War (1993)

In the “Landscape” theme of the exhibition the Bosnian artist Gabrijel Jurkić’s painting “Blooming Plateau” is an epic wide and open landscape space painting of blooming bright yellow white floors under a pure cloudless ultramarine blue sky. The blooming landscape is punctured with snaking blue streams. Distractions are limited but the space offers one the opportunity to reflect and become connected and in touch with their surroundings; like climbing down from the intellect to the earth. Another painting featured in the same theme is Bosnian artist Bekir Misirlić’s “The White Plateau”. The white minimalism associated with the works of the American artists Robert Ryman and Agnes Martin springs to my mind when I study Misirlić’s painting. The lines on the white background, for me, are the metaphysical counterpart to Jurkić’s “Blooming Plateau” painting. It’s as if Misirlić’s “The White Plateau” is a reading and analysis of the heartbeat and vitality of the blooming plateau field in Jurkić’s work. The lines are rarely disturbed and undulate only at occasional intervals. There is little disturbance and volatility.

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Gabrijel Jurkić: Blooming Plateau (1914)

 

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Bekir Misirlić: The White Plateau

In the final “Window” section, there is a relief painting by the artist Narcis Kantardzić. Seeing the work from a distance, one could be under the illusion that they are inside one of the traditional old white houses on the Greek island of Santorini. Yet examining the work closer up, the two white buildings on the left and right edges of the painting appear more modern than traditional and the illusion slowly fades away.

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Narcis Kantardzić: Landscape (1986)

On another floor of the art museum there is a separate temporary exhibition featuring contemporary artists from Sarajevo and Zurich, Switzerland called “Sarajevo-Zurich: Unlimited 2017”. The first work I see on display in the exhibition is an installation entitled “Nostos Algos/Return Suffering” by an artist from Sarajevo called Adela Jusić, who is also a founder of Association for Culture and Art CRVENA, which focuses on various cultural and feminist projects. She is also a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Sarajevo. Her installation recreates a living space comprising of a dated Tito era clock, furniture, a framed black and white photograph of a young boy, and three open suitcases and miscellaneous objects scattered across the floor. The artist lives in a house which she rents from a Bosnian family who fled during the start of the Bosnian war in 1992. The family ended up as refugees in Denmark where they still live. The difference now is that they are not refugees any more but Danish citizens. Once a year the family return to the house they left in Bosnia for a week or two. The objects left behind when they fled the war remain. Even though the family come back for such a short period each year, all these objects which they left behind are firmly connected to their memories. The clock and furniture may remind the family of happy times before the war broke out; of perhaps sitting down to meals together with three generations of family members set around the table. Each object has its own energy and connection to the family and triggers mental pictures of moments and events from the past each time the family return to their former home; returning to what they reluctantly and painfully had to leave behind, due to circumstances beyond their control, and to memories they’d since become detached from as they began their new life in Denmark.

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Adela Jusić: Nostos Algos/Return Suffering (2017)

The next work from the exhibition I am drawn to is another installation by the well known Bosnian artist Jusuf Hadzifejzović. His work, “Shop of Emptiness”, features two tables and a shelf with used consumer grocery goods such as empty bottles, tins and cardboard containers (originally used to package these goods) transformed into artworks. Some of Marcel Duchamp’s (arguably the father of Conceptual Art) most well known works are his “readymades”; everyday mass produced consumer objects he appropriated and repositioned, turning them into works of art. Duchamp’s iconic 1917 “Fountain” urinal work is one fine example where he appropriated an everyday nondescript mass produced urinal fountain and signed it “R.Mutt”. In Hadzifejzović’s installation the empty disposable objects he presents are his own little readymades directly connected to his daily life. The curator and writer Jonathan Blackwood describes the displayed objects as “mute witnesses to the life of the artist”. Often when we consume, we consume mindlessly and with no awareness. We take for granted what we are consuming. These mass goods fill a very temporary need or urge and once it has been satisfied we forget about what we consumed and almost automatically dispose of the empty contents with no attachment to them. By retaining the empty objects, at least one can contemplate on them even after, in the words of Blackwood, “their original purpose has been filled”. “Shop of Emptiness” is a mindful report on Hadziferzuvić’s quotidian consumption over a period of time in his life; a meditation on his consumption and the particular memories, feelings and mental pictures each empty object conveys to him when they were consumed during those intervals in time.

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Jusuf Hadzifejzović: Shop of Emptiness (2012-15)

The established young Bosnian artist Bojan Stojčić, who’s also a professor at Sarajevo’s Academy of Fine Arts, has a photographic display series entitled “No Trace Promises The Path”. The photographs are visual extensions of lines from a book of poems of the same name written by Stojčić. Each photograph is a fleeting execution of specific interventions, situations, locations and emotional reactions. Of the montage of different photographs, one photograph is of a border crossing with queueing cars. At the crossing, the artist intervenes with a small vertical slip of paper with the words, “Fear Has No Border”.

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Bojan Stojčić: No Trace Promises The Path (2013-15)

Towards the end of the exhibition, there is a short video installation by the Sarajevo born and Academy of Fine Arts graduate Lana Čmajčanin. Like Adela Jusić, she is also a co-founder and member of the Association for Culture and Art CRVENA. The video, entitled “Geometry of Time”, features 35 different historical maps of the location of Bosnia and Herzegovina from Roman times until the Dayton Peace Agreement of 1995 which ended the war in Bosnia and led to the current formation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. During this time period Bosnia’s borders changed frequently. For over 400 years it was part of the Ottoman Empire, then after it was under the rule of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire before becoming part of Yugoslavia. The fall of Yugoslavia and the ensuing Bosnian war leading to the Dayton Peace Agreement resulted in the current Bosnia and Herzegovina state. The numerous interventions in Bosnia and Herzegovina during its history and the changes in its borders are a reflection on the ambitions and desire for power of its colonisers. Bosnia is a country that has always been colonised, never becoming a colonial power itself. In the video, the country becomes increasingly submerged in blackened marks enfolding all of South Eastern Europe. For a country that has been invaded and colonised throughout its history what do these borders really mean?

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Lana Čmajčanin: Geometry of Time

By the main city cathedral, I one day visited Galerija 11/07/95, a memorial gallery preserving the memory of the Srebrenica massacre of 11th July 1995 where over 8,000 civilians lost their lives. The permanent exhibition on display features a series of powerful black and white photographs by the Bosnian photographer Tarik Samarah, which documents the aftermath of the massacre. His photographs include graphic images of the skulls and dismembered bones and body parts of the victims dug up from multiple unidentified mass graves.

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Photograph by Tarik Samarah from 2002 documenting the aftermath of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre

In the History Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina opposite the American Embassy, I visit another photography exhibition, 15 years, of photographs by the Scottish photographer Jim Marshall. The photographs are of specific locations in Sarajevo in 1996, a year after the Bosnian war, and of those same locations 15 years later in 2011. The photographs from 1996 were taken on a modest Nikon 35mm film camera. The effects of the war are very vivid in these photographs; buildings are badly damaged and the city is scarred and mutilated. Yet slowly civilians were beginning to recover from the traumatic and devastating three year siege of the city and could finally experience a level of freedom which they were long denied. They didn’t need to run or hide any more and live under the constant threat of danger. Civilians could at last travel outside of the city. It was during this time that Sarajevo was beginning to heal.

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Photography by Jim Marshall from his solo exhibition 15 Years

When Marshall revisited the city 15 years later in 2011, he revisited those exact same locations and took new photographs with a digital Nikon camera. The differences are very noticeable. There are now few traces of the war and almost all of buildings which had been destroyed have been transformed and reconstructed.

 

By Nicholas Peart

Written: October – November 2017

©All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

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Investigating Belgrade’s Art Scene

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If anyone had a chance to look at my photographs from Belgrade’s Savamala district one could not unreasonably come to the conclusion that Belgrade is art. It may not be an ostentatiously lovely city like Paris or Prague with its magnificent buildings (although there are many impressive buildings here) but it has an atmosphere that is hard to beat. Many people have compared Belgrade with Berlin and for many years Belgrade has been touted as the ‘new Berlin’. I love Berlin too and there are obvious similarities but comparing the two cities is unhelpful. Yet its unavoidable. For many years Berlin was and still is one of the world’s premier cities for artists to reside. It’s close competitors are London and New York yet unlike those two cities Berlin for a long time was a much more affordable city for artists to live. But recently some artists in Berlin have began to feel the pain of increasing rents in the city and thus are forced to seek out other cities. But I digress. I find Belgrade an atmospheric, raw and, at times, an intense city. These are the perfect ingredients for artistic inspiration. A view over Lake Geneva, as nice as it may be, doesn’t quite cut it for me.

Art is everywhere in Belgrade. Not just in the galleries. But in the mixed and diverse architecture of the city’s buildings, in the wealth of street art, and in the air and rhythms of the city. Handsome and regal-like buildings from the age of the Austrian-Hungarian empire can be easily spotted hand in hand with imposing cigarette ash grey Communist era Brutalist blocks. Despite their wealth and history, many are in slow and crumbling decay. Very few are ‘tarted up’. I particularly admire the old yellow Belgrade railway station building at the edge of the city. In that part of the city the pressure is high and its Belgrade’s very own Gare du Nord; flourishing and radiating with warts and all flowers of life. There are no ‘must do’ sites here but the energy is pulsating and pungent. I think the writers Charles Bukowski and Jean Genet would have fallen in love with this neck of the woods.

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Mural of The Clash lead singer Joe Strummer by Grupa JNA

Street art bathes all corners of Belgrade. The Savamala district has the lion’s share and you can see one of my other posts here where I document that area with many photographs. I particularly like a street art collective that go by the name “Grupa JNA”. Many of their murals can by found in the Dorcol district. Look out for the murals of Morrissey and Joe Strummer. In Savamala there is a mural of the young Bosnian revolutionary and assassinator of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Gavrilo Princip and probably the most impressive and imposing street art mural in all of Belgrade of a man with his mouth open wide with all his teeth painted as rows of buildings. In his hand is a tree which could pass for a piece of broccoli.

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Mural of Gavrilo Princip; the young Bosnian revolutionary who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Sadly the Museum Of Contemporary Art in Belgrade is currently closed for renovation works. It’s been closed for some years but hopefully it should be reopening its doors soon. What I originally envisaged to be a large setback regarding my plans to tap into the city’s contemporary art scene has not been much of a hindrance at all since during my time in Belgrade I was very fortunate enough to visit many of the city’s galleries and discover the works of a large number of exciting artists.

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Opening at the Remont gallery of a solo exhibition by Serbian artist Goran Stojcetovic

The first gallery I check out in the city is the Remont gallery off Maršala Birjuzova street, which is an important core art gallery in the city for promoting the latest local contemporary art. I am fortunate enough to attend the opening night of an exhibition of works by the Serbian artist Goran Stojcetovic. He is the founder of Art Brut Serbia after the term coined by French artist Jean Dubuffet referring to ‘outsider art’ created by artists working outside of the art world and art institutions. Goran’s signature blue ink works on papers are brilliant, pure and highly idiosyncratic works of art. There are also elements of humour too as can be seen where he ingeniously transforms the front page cover star of some Serbian celebrity gossip magazine into one of his trademark blue Bosch devils. Serbian surrealism at its finest.

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Works by Goran Stojcetovic

I catch the tail end of a group exhibition of Hispanic artists entitled Chinese Whispers/An Image, A Memory at an experimental art space called U10 close to Terazije street. Peruvian artist Rudolph Castro’s seven charcoal drawings entitled Walls (2017) is a powerful work of art in the context of the history of brutal Latin American dictatorships and the war and violence throughout the 1990s after the fall of former Yugoslavia. Chilean artist Benjamín Altermatt’s video The Land Which Is Not comprises of a series of old photographs taken in Belgrade accompanied by random sounds with the intention of creating a new real or unreal territory debased from its original identity.

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Chinese Whispers group exhibition at the U10 gallery

 

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Walls (2017) by Rudolph Castro

 

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The Land Which Is Not by Benjamín Altermatt

A little further up Terazije towards the city centre, I visit Gallery SULUJ where there is group exhibition of sculpture and installation works entitled Soft Sculpture – Hard Thoughts. Myrsini Artakianou’s Zero Past, Infinite Future is a collection of fragile and organic life forms disjointed but brought together to make their desolation alive. Bleak close up, but as beautiful as the rarest of pearls from a distance. Sonja Hillen’s Thoughttorture is a ‘knitted brain’ in a knitted grey/blue puddle. The third work to catch my vision is a participatory installation entitled Shaping by Danica Bićanić. It is a soft rubber ball-like sculpture which she invites viewers to reshape and remould from its original form.

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Zero Past, Infinite Future by Myrsini Artakianou

 

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Thoughttorture by Sonja Hillen

 

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Shaping by Danica Bićanić

South of Terazije off Kralja Milana street is the SKC or Student’s Cultural Centre. Historically this was a very significant institution as this is where Serbian and Yugoslavian conceptual art was born at the start of the 1970s. The famous Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovic was a key artist in that original scene (as was her former pre Ulay partner; the noted Serbian conceptual artist Nesa Paripovic). One of her early landmark and legendary performance art pieces, Rhythm 5, was performed here. For this performance she made a five-pointed star from wood and dowsed it in 100 litres of petrol. She then walked around it, cutting her hair and nails and throwing them into the flames. Whilst it was on fire she proceeded to lie down in the middle of the burning star.. The iconic German artist Joseph Beuys was in the audience and it’s rumoured that he saved her from the growing flames when she lost consciousness. All this awesome history aside, I had very little luck here. There seemed to be nothing happening. The two people at the reception of the centre resonated apathy and indifference, like I was wasting my time coming here.

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The SKC (Student’s Cultural Centre)

 

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Rhythm 5 by Marina Abramović

The Savamala district which I’ve mention in another post, has many art spaces (many temporary pop-up spaces it feels) and studios. The creative nexus of the area is the KC GRAD. As well as being a bar and a space for interesting live music and experimental events, there is an exhibition space upstairs. When I visited there was no exhibition on display but the KC Grad is a good place to frequent to meet creative people and establish connections in the area. I haven’t been to the following but from what I’ve read, art spaces to check in the area include Magacin, Gallery KM 8 and Zavod. Although the Savamala is one of the main creative hubs and exciting ‘up and coming’ districts in the city, I had a hard time trying to find some of the galleries I wanted to visit. That’s why I recommend maybe spending some quality time at KC Grad and networking there for insider info and where it’s all at.

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The KC Grad

On the outskirts of the city is the Museum of Yugoslavia, which also houses Tito’s mausoleum. When I visited there was a temporary exhibition of black and white photographs documenting Tito’s many trips to Africa. In one photograph a group of young black Africans all in white shirts hold up in the air a placard saying ‘Long Live Tito Man Of Peace’. In another photo Tito’s wife Jovanka is pictured in Ghana dressed in local attire by a group of Ghanaian women. The next photograph to catch my eye shows Tito with the Gaddafi family in Libya sometime in the 1970s. Colonel Gaddafi is kneeling down and smiling on the left whilst Tito is sitting down on the sofa with two of Gaddafi’s sons by his sides.

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The Museum of Yugoslavia

 

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Photographs from the Tito In Africa exhibition at the Museum of Yugoslavia 

If you ever do make it to the museum, try to allocate some free time to visit the nearby former home of the important Serbian/Montenegrin painter Petar Lubarda. His home has been immaculately restored and contains a solid collection of some of his most significant paintings. Some of his paintings were in very bad condition and even missing after he passed away but they have been restored very well. Lubarda was well known in his lifetime but over time seemed to have faded into almost obscurity. But this museum does a fantastic job in preserving his legacy. The first room I enter contains his striking red paintings. When you enter that room you immediately come face to face with his enormous rectangular painting entitled Man and Beasts from 1964. It is a magnificent painting. Like the Bayeux tapestry blended with the most nightmarish paintings by Goya and the English Romantic painter John Martin. I am in awe of this painting and it would look phenomenal in any spanking blue chip modern art museum. Another brilliant painting by Lubarda on display in another room is a large painting entitled The Battle of Kosovo from 1953. This is probably his most well known painting. The 1389 Battle of Kosovo was a very big influence on much of his work.

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Man and Beasts (1964) by Petar Lubarda

 

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Close-up of Man and Beasts

 

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The Battle of Kosovo (1953) by Petar Lubarda

By the Studentski Square park in the centre of the city is a small gallery called Gallery KNU where there is a solo exhibition of paintings entitled Swimmers by Ivana Živić. In her realist and surreal dreamlike paintings, the interior of opulent palatial art museums are flooded in water. In the painting Museum (2017), a young lady in red (yes like the Chris de Burgh song) appears either lifeless like Orphelia in the iconic mid 19th century painting by pre Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais or in a blissful cosmic dream, like the kind of dreams you never want to wake up from. In another painting entitled Red Room (2014), the lines between dreams and reality are increasingly blurred to the point where the subject appears to be leaving her body and the physical world becoming at one with the metaphysical invisible world. It is a profoundly spiritual and powerful painting.

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Museum (2017) by Ivana Živić

 

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Red Room (2014) by Ivana Živić

On Belgrade’s main Knez Mihailova high street are a few interesting art spaces. My first port of call is the Zepter Museum. This is an excellent art museum with three floors of modern and contemporary paintings, photography, sculptures and installations by artists from former Yugoslavia. Look out for artist Ljubomir Ljuba Popovic’s epic and ethereal masterpiece Les Signes Du Déluge (2007). Other delights include Steven Knezevic’s off the wall (but firmly on the wall) painting Jitterbug (1966/74) and Vera Bozickovic Popovic’s Horizontal Composition II (1960) painting.

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Les Signes Du Déluge (2007) by Ljubomir Ljuba Popovic

 

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Jitterbug (1966/74) by Steven Knezevic

 

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Horizontal Composition II (1960) by Vera Bozickovic Popovic

Afterwards I visit a smaller commercial art gallery on the Knez called Gallery ULUS. There was a solo exhibition of paintings by the artist Marko Antonovic when I visited. His paintings are bold, energetic with hard lashes of hot and cold rays and are reminiscent of the German Expressionist paintings of the Die Brucke movement artists such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

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Paintings by Marko Antonovic

One evening I attended the opening of an exhibition of black and white photographs by the American film director David Lynch entitled Small Stories at the small art gallery of the Cultural Centre of Belgrade on Trg Republike just off the main Knez thoroughfare. His photographs are dense multi dimensional works with several overlapping narratives. Like interpretations of our wildest and most disjointed and unexplainable dreams, these photographs make them tangible. The opening of the exhibition is heaving with people and it’s only later in the night just before the gallery closes and there are less people around that I can freely walk around and look at the photographs undisturbed.

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At the opening of the David Lynch photography exhibition Small Stories at the Cultural Center of Belgrade

 

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Hello My Name Is Fred by David Lynch 

On the same night there is another opening of a joint exhibition called In The Same Space at the Salon of the Museum of Contemporary Art featuring the artists Selman Trtovac and Vladimir Frelih. Both artists exhibit challenging and ambitious works.

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Kat. No 13 041 664 (2005-17) by Vladimir Frelih

Frelih’s Kat. No 13 041 664 (2005-17) is an ongoing project comprising of 183 photos where each photo is a different shade of red. All the photos are individually framed and were developed in different photo studios across Europe over a 12 year time period.

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Consequences – Magnetic Brain Stimulation (2017) by Selman Trtovac

Trtovac’s Consequences – Magnetic Brain Stimulation (2017) is a project documenting the artist undergoing a non-invasive magnetic brain stimulation, whilst creating a series of drawings, used to treat people with dementia and also used on pilots of the US army during training to help them improve the speed of their reflexes and reactions. Trtovac’s aim with undergoing this procedure was to tap more acutely into his mind and mental faculties and understand better the relationship between the mind and the creative process. These drawings creating during the procedure, entitled Spiritus Movens (2014), are also featured in the show.

 

By Nicholas Peart

12th September 2017

©All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Inside The Croatian Museum Of Naive Art

This art museum was one of the highlights of my trip to Zagreb. Naive Art as an art form was very fashionable during the 1960s and 1970s. Personally I don’t like the term very much as I think it degrades art and implies that it’s not very good. Some art of that genre can be very kitsch but it can also be very brilliant, full of heart and soul. The best work of this genre is up there with many of the greatest works from the Art Brut movement where artists, with no formal art education, created work, often of a very raw nature, outside of the confines of the ‘Art World’ and other established institutions.

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Self-Portrait (1975) by Ivan Generalić

Most of the work on display at this museum is by noted Croatian artists of the Hlebine School. Hebline is a small village in the north of Croatia which from the 1920s was the place where a small group of self taught peasants began to develop a new style of painting. The artist Ivan Generalić (1914-1992) was the father of this movement. When I enter the first room of the museum, his Self-Portrait (1975) painting is the first painting to catch my eye. The prominent blue background of the painting is unmissable and I am immediately reminded of the Italian Renaissance painter Giovanni Bellini’s Portrait Of Doge Leonardo Loredan.

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Harvest (1938) by Mirko Virius 

In the same room, there are also paintings by another artist of the first generation of Hebline school artists called Mirko Virius (1889-1943) who’s paintings are of traditional rural people. His painting Harvest (1938) reminds me of the rural paintings of everyday peasant life by the pre Impressionist French painter Jean-Francois Millet. Millet was also a huge influence on Vincent Van Gogh who at the beginning of his painting career wanted to paint rural peasant life in its purest form from the source. Many of Van Gogh’s early paintings and drawings capture this very beautifully.

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The Evangelists On Calvary (1996) by Ivan Večenaj

Then there is another painting in that same called The Evangelists On Calvary (1996) by one of the second generation of Hlebine School artists called Ivan Večenaj (1920-2013). This is probably the most powerful painting in the room. The intricate mess of destruction, decay and dehumanisation makes me hark back to the most nightmarish paintings by the legendary and light-years-ahead-of-his-time Dutch colossus Hieronymus Bosch. Out of all the art works in the museum, it is those paintings by Večenaj, which resonate most deeply with me. Another painting of his entitled Gaitery Juna (1962) features a peasant lady with a deformed face. A third painting depicts Moses by the Red Sea.

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Martin Mehkek

In another room, a series of portraits by Martin Mehkek (1936-2014) stop me in my tracks. The portraits are very human and Mehkek seems to have a unique ability to empathise with his subjects and put himself in their shoes. He paints his subjects in a way which executes their emotions and traits. And many of his subjects seem to be local villagers and they appear to be painted in a way where all their quirks, bizarreness and insularity are masterfully captured.

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Emerik Feješ

The paintings of Emerik Feješ (1904-1969) are of colourful, childlike, ethereal and joyful buildings in a style that is his own. Like ornate Venetian buildings turned into multi coloured, energetic Mississippi and New Orleans juke joints. Observing his paintings fill me with hope and positivity, which is very vital in a pungent age of anxiety.

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Luxary Ship (1974) by Drago Jurak

The final piece of work in the museum to make an impression on me is a painting by Drago Jurak (1911-1994) called Luxary Ship (1974). It is a extraordinary painting and I immediately think of the impossibly insane Swiss artist Adolf Wölfi, a key artist from the Art Brut movement. His paintings are of an overly complex, obsessive and deranged nature. Like a shockingly talented Persian miniature painter on acid. Some artists are just happy to knock up bland landscape pastiches. Yet painters like Jurak and Wölfi are forever hellbent on rocking the boat and driving the square community mad.

 

By Nicholas Peart

©All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Art And Living In The Digital World

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This is an essay I wrote towards the end of 2014 about being an artist and living in the context of our digital world. I have made a few changes since then but the general gist of the essay remains the same.

 

Today art can be split into two categories; “Pre-Internet” and “Post-Internet” art.

All the important and influential art movements are all of the Pre-Internet age. It seems to me that in this current Post-Internet age, there are no real lasting and meaningful art movements. There are of course many interesting artists today creating challenging and original works of art via digital media and who are very much in tune with the zeitgeist and more power to them. Yet there is something I long for which I feel is missing. And this is not strictly limited to artists and art. This applies to (and perhaps to a much greater degree) general living.

Before the internet the main media sources were television/video, the telephone, the radio and the printing press. The internet is all this and much much more. It enables us access to diverse and limitless quantities of information. In order to source information before the internet, most people went to libraries and even these institutions were no guarantee that you would find the specific information you were looking for. But with the internet almost all kinds of information can be accessed without having to travel to libraries or even spend valuable time and money employing people to find certain bits of information. Access to information has been truly democratised (assuming everyone has an internet connection) since the development and growth of the World Wide Web.

Today we have a whole plethora of internet related social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube etc. to communicate/express ourselves through. Before the internet, the only possible ways to communicate with one another apart from face to face, were via the telephone, fax, telegram or via mail (in the form of letter writing which save for a few dedicated souls is well and truly six feet underground as an art). The channels of far flung communication were limited. People were more in the woods with regards to what was happening globally.
People did not lose themselves or devote much of their time to living in “electronic virtual reality”. People actually spent much time reading books, spending their free time outside, having real relationships (we still have real relationships but these are decreasing and I believe in the wake of “hyper-immersive 3D virtual reality” more and more people will be cutting themselves off and almost be living at least half of their entire existence in this new type of virtual world. More and more people will even cease having sexual relationships since the stimulated virtual way will feel even better than the real thing).

Via the array of social media sites there are many different groups that artists join. Too many groups. A humongous vertigo-inducing fragmentation of different groups. In the context of today’s world, everything changes faster than before. This is a faster world. News travels faster. There is less mystery. Life is documented more than ever before. Through the internet, everyone can now express themselves. There are more artists today than before. Art or being an artist is not something that is taboo or contentious anymore. Things that may have been considered ‘renegade’ or less accepted in the past such as being an artist, a musician or traveling around the world are now accepted and quite conventional. To travel around the world for a year as part of a ‘gap year’ is now the done thing.

I think that to be a true artist (a most overused weird) in this current digital age is to leave no traces; no evidence of art or living. To disappear and be an eternal apparition.

Often I don’t have the guts or the humility to leave no traces. There is something intricately hardwired in me about having to ‘be somebody’. Yet as the great Indian sage Juddi Krishnamurti once said, ‘the moment we want to be someone we are no longer free’

 

By Nicholas Peart

Originally written on 27th December 2014

(All rights reserved)

 

Image source: http://www.blouinartinfo.com

My Favourite Paintings In The Louvre

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The Louvre *

 

The Louvre museum in Paris has one of the most impressive collections of paintings by European Old Masters in the world. Perhaps the only museum to really rival it in this field is the Prado in Madrid (the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the National Gallery in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York are a few close contenders). But not only does it house an impressive collection of paintings and sculptures from that age, it also has a substantial collection of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Islamic and other World artefacts through the ages.

In this post I am listing my favourite paintings from the enormous collection of paintings on display by Old French, Italian, Flemish and Spanish Masters

 

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Nicolas Poussin (1594 – 1665) – Saint John Baptising The People (1634-5) 

Many art writers and historians argue that Poussin was the first great French painter who changed the face of art in France and blazed a trail for all French artists who came after him. The art scene in France during his time was very staid (yet in a state of transition finally moving away from the traditional apprenticeship methods of working) and for this reason he spent most of his life in Rome. The American author Micheal Kimmelman goes as far as saying that Poussin was, ”the springboard for the greatest French artists from David to Matisse”

 

 

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Claude Lorrain (1600 or 1604/5 – 1682) – Port With Capitol (1636)

Claude was another great French painter who like Poussin spent most of his life in Italy. He was also a prominent landscape painter. As can be seen in the port painting, the landscape was the dominant subject. At the time, making the landscape the dominant feature of a painting as opposed to actual figures/subjects was seen as groundbreaking. Claude’s paintings were an enourmous influence on the dramatic abstract-like landscape paintings of the revolutionary British painter J.M.W.Turner.

 

 

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Adolphe-Joseph Monticelli (1824 – 1886) – The Diner 

Monticelli was a very individual painter with his own unique style. What is even more amazing is how ahead of his time he was regarding his unusual style. Like the other great French painter, Eugene Delacroix (whose oil sketches Monticelli highly admired), he predated the Impressionists by many years.

 

 

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Herman Naiwincx (1623-1670) – Baptism Of The Ethiopian Eunuch 

 

 

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Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps (1803-1860) –  A Begger Counting His Money (1833) 

 

 

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Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) – The Hay Trussers (1850-51)

Millet was a huge influence on Vincent Van Gogh and this painting, as well as being a landmark work of art, perfectly encapsulates what Van Gogh first set out to achieve when he established himself as an artist. Van Gogh had a strong desire to paint the rural folk and their way of life as can be seen in his early paintings such as The Potato Eaters and many of his early sketches.

 

 

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Jules Dupré (1811-1889) – Sunset After A Storm (1851)

 

 

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Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) – Pietà (1837)

This is a gem of a painting by the great French painter Eugene Delacroix. What is amazing about this painting is, stylistically, how loose and free it is and one could argue that it is a strong example of proto-Impressionism since it predates the movement by four decades (give or take a few years). Furthermore, Delacroix was an enormous influence on that generation of artists. In fact many argue that he planted the seed for the Impressionist movement.

 

 

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Jaques-Louis David (1748-1825) – Death Of Maret (1794)

This painting is of the murdered leader of the French Revolution, Jean-Paul Marat, and is one of the most iconic images of its time.

 

 

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Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) – Rinaldo In The Gardens Of Armida

 

 

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Cimabue (1240-1302) – The Madonna And Child In Majesty Surrounded By Angels

Cimabue was a revolutionary artist. Arguably the first of the major early Italian Renaissance artists and the first artist to break away from the traditional Italo-Byzantine style art of the time. The above painting is one of his series of famous Maestà paintings.

 

 

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Giotto di Bondone (1266/67 – 1337) – The Crucifixion

Giotto was a student of Cimabue and along with him a major artist of the early Italian Renaissance movement.

 

 

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Lo Spagna (d. 1529) – St Jerome In The Desert (1531)

 

 

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Antonio Campi (1522-87) – The Mystery Of The Passion Of Christ

 

 

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Bartholomé Esteban Murillo (1617-82) – The Young Begger (1645-50)

This painting, for me, is striking for it’s gritty realism and social context. It was painted towards the end of Spain’s Siglo d’Oro (Golden Age) around the middle part of the 17th century when Spain had an enormous global empire. But what is clear is that, as evident by the acute poverty in the painting, it wasn’t a Golden Age for everyone. Much of Spain’s wealth accumulated from its former colonies was squandered on wars and in spite of its global clout at the time, the Spanish Crown filed for bankruptcy several times.

 

 

By Nicholas Peart

26th October 2016

(All rights reserved)

*image source: symmetrymagazine.org

Mona Lisa Madness At The Louvre

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Mona Lisa frenzy at the Louvre museum, Paris

 

I don’t think I’ve seen anything else quite like this in any other art museum I’ve been to around the world. The Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci is arguably the most iconic work of art in the world and the most well known. Perhaps the only other work by an old master with an iconic status almost equal to (but not quite of the same magnitude of) the Mona Lisa is The Girl With The Pearl Earing by the Dutch painter Johanes Vermeer.

It is actually quite rare that a random member of the general public knows the title of a work of art by a famous artist. Everyone has heard of Picasso but how many can name the title of one of his many works? The same for Andy Warhol, the same for Jackson Pollock, Damien Hirst etc.

I am quite fascinated by the monumental popularity of the Mona Lisa. The stampede to even just catch a glimpse of this painting is akin to trying to catch a glimpse of a famous rockstar doing a signing at some small record store. As much as I wanted to get up close to see the Mona Lisa, I eventually gave up. Instead I channelled my energies into immersing myself into the nearby epic painting entitled The Cornation Of The Virgin by the Italian master Tintoretto.

But why is the Mona Lisa the most iconic painting in the world? Firstly its provonence. Since it was completed in 1519, it has been in the hands of French kings and emperors before finally settling in the Louvre. The genesis though of its current global popularity can be traced back to an 1867 essay on Leonardo by the English essayist and art critic Walter Pater where he dissected and wrote very passionately and poetically about the Mona Lisa (or La Gionconda as it was known back then). Pater’s essay is not only one of the most famous essays on any single piece of art, at the time it was seen as quite groundbreaking especially since art criticism was a fairly new concept back then. Since then the painting has been caught in the crossfire of a series of high profile events. In 1911 it was stolen from the Louvre. Picasso and his friend the French poet Guillaume Appolinaire (who once demanded that the Louvre be ‘burnt down’) were seen as two potential suspects. Eventually the thief was revealed to be a Louvre employee at the time, Vincenzo Peruggia. In 1956, part of the painting was destroyed when someone hurled acid at it. Then it was vandalised again in 1974 when a woman sprayed red paint on it. The painting is now kept behind bullet proof glass as can be seen in the photo above this post.

The painting has also been appropriated by other artists. Most famously by the father of conceptual art, Marcel Duchamp, who added a mustache to the painting in his 1919 piece ‘L.H.O.O.Q’. Later famous artists like Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol have also appropriated the painting in their work.

The truth is that the Mona Lisa has the greatest legacy out of any other single work of art ever created hence the unprecedented fascination in it. This painting would go for a whopping sum of money if it were ever released on the open market at auction in either Sotherby’s or Christies. The record paid so far for a single work of art to date is $300 million in September 2015 for the painting ‘Interchange’ by the abstract expressionist painter Willem de Kooning. I predict that if the Mona Lisa were ever auctioned (perish the thought) it would breach the billion dollar mark. It is that important and as a financial ‘security’ or ‘instrument’; tremendously desirable.

As for me, I like Da Vinci’s work but I’ve always been more interested in his mind, his ideas and ways of working than the actual finished pieces of art. His sensitivity to nature and the world as well his acute understanding of the anatomy of the human body have always impressed me.

His thinking was incredibly ahead of his time. His dreaming and vision had no boundaries. I love his sketches. Some of his skeches contain many of his inventions – one looking like a modern day helicopter. Incredible to think that these were concocted over half a millennium ago.

 

by Nicholas Peart

22nd September 2016

(All rights reserved)

PAINTINGS (March – June 2016)

I’ve just returned back to London after having been away in South Africa for five months. For much of the last two months of my time over there, I travelled around large swathes of the country and many of my last blog posts detail my travel experiences over there.

Yet for the first few months of my time in South Africa I was based in the Western Cape, where I spent much of that time working on my latest series of paintings. Below I am enclosing images of the fruits of my creative labour (put your back into boy! – hahaha) which I am enclosing underneath this post.

If you would like to view more images of my work please visit my official art website at: http://www.nicholaspeart.com

Enjoy!…

 

 

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Life On Pluto (2016), oil on canvas, 100 x 75cm

 

 

 

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Straight To Hell (2016), oil on canvas, 100 x 75cm 

 

 

 

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Frozen Meta Collective Unconscious Lives And Past Lives (2016), oil on canvas, 100 x 75cm

 

 

 

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In The Next Life (2016), oil on canvas, 70 x 55cm

 

 

 

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Enigma (2016), oil on canvas, 70 x 55cm

 

 

 

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Funeral Pyres Of Fantastic Disguise (2016), oil on canvas, 40 x 32cm

 

 

 

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Secret Lives (2016), oil on canvas, 70 x 55cm

 

 

 

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Sun Poles (2016), oil on canvas, 50 x 40cm

 

 

(All images and works above by Nicholas Peart)

(All rights reserved)